Video: Star Power: Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer, with a new prime-time show and a $1.6 million contract, is hot. But are celebrity anchors like her upstaging the news?

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 9)

Few TV newspeople, moreover, have moved in such glittery social circles. Sawyer has kept company with a raft of celebrities, from Warren Beatty to Henry Kissinger, and last year married director Mike Nichols. She was the subject of a glamorous (too glamorous for some of her colleagues) Annie Leibovitz photo spread in Vanity Fair magazine. At CBS she cultivated friendships with founder William Paley and president Laurence Tisch, both of whom have taken a personal interest in her career. Says a veteran CBS hand: "She's the best politician I've ever come across."

"Ambitious" is a word often used to describe Sawyer, but the fact is that others have had ambitions for her as well. In 1986, as her CBS contract neared renewal, Sawyer was avidly pursued by NBC. To keep her, CBS upped her salary to $1.2 million and promised to give her additional projects besides 60 Minutes: subbing for Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News and hosting a series of Person to Person specials, patterned after the old Edward R. Murrow interview series.

But the anchor stints were sparse (reportedly because Rather was jealous of her), and Person to Person never got off the ground, largely because of Hewitt's resistance to letting his 60 Minutes star do outside work. That left an opening for ABC News president and chief starmaker Roone Arledge. In May 1988 he approached Sawyer with a proposal to co-anchor a new prime-time show he was developing. She declined, saying she did not want to leave 60 Minutes in the lurch as it was gearing up for a new season. But when Arledge tried again in January, she was more receptive. A deal was consummated in two weeks. "I always thought Diane was very good," says Arledge, "but I never had anything right for her until I came up with this show. Look at the success that Barbara Walters has had: she is set apart from the rest of the industry. I think Diane will have that same kind of success."

Just what the new show will be was still in flux just days before airtime. Produced by Richard Kaplan, formerly of Nightline, the live weekly hour will be a mix of interviews, reports on breaking news stories and town meeting-like discussions. Sawyer describes it as a "lateral slice" of the week's news. Arledge compares its free-form structure to Olympics coverage: "The idea is that we will be all over the world where things are happening." What is most apparent is that Prime Time Live has been predicated on -- and will succeed or fail because of -- the chemistry between its two stars.

It's a match that might have been made in a Hollywood mogul's heaven: the loudest reporter on the White House lawn meets the classiest lady in TV news -- "a sonata for harp and jackhammer," in Sawyer's words. The pair represent different roads to TV stardom as well. Donaldson, unlike most of his fellow TV news stars, gained fame because of his brash, sometimes abrasive reporting rather than his on-camera charm or polish. He and Sawyer plan to engage in unrehearsed, possibly disputatious colloquies about issues, but Donaldson insists that the clashes won't turn into routs. "One of my fears was that I would be perceived as the bully," he says. "But if we have a disagreement, Diane is not going to be intimidated. I will probably be the one getting the sympathy votes." "We have a natural adversarial relationship on a lot of issues," says Sawyer. "But it's not going to be 'Diane, you ignorant slut!' "

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9